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First Pacific language to enter CHILDES

Date: 13 July 2017

The New Guinea language Nungon (1,000 speakers, Morobe Province, Papua New Guinea) has become the first language from either Australia or the Pacific region (excluding South East Asia) to enter the international database of child language corpora CHILDES.

CHILDES is a major archive of transcripts, frequently linked to audio and video recordings, of young children interacting with their parents, playmates and teachers in settings from around the world. It includes data from 42 languages, most of them major national languages.

While Papua New Guinea is home to about 10% of the world’s languages, how children acquire these languages is largely unstudied. Fewer than five longitudinal studies of children acquiring languages of Papua New Guinea have been undertaken or are underway, compared with the nearly 80 separate studies of children acquiring English currently in CHILDES.

The Nungon child speech corpus includes about a hundred hours of closely transcribed and beautifully presented material entered by a team led by Hannah Sarvasy, Research Fellow at the ARC Centre of Excellence for the Dynamics of Language. 

Dr Sarvasy has been researching Nungon in collaboration with the Nungon community since 2011.

The Child Language Data Exchange System (CHILDES) was established in 1984 by Brian MacWhinney and Catherine Snow to serve as a central repository for first language acquisition data and is used by researchers throughout the world. Over 3000 articles have been published by researchers accessing the digitised corpora.

Many of the transcripts are linked to additional audio and video media files that allow researchers to immediately playback the interactions on the level of individual sentences at any point in the transcript.

Top image: A team of Nungon speakers worked with Hannah on transcription. They are, L to R, Stanly Girip, Nathalyn Ogate, Lyn Ogate, James Jio.

  • Australian Government
  • The University of Queensland
  • Australian National University
  • The University of Melbourne
  • Western Sydney University